One Size Does Not Fit All: Mistakes Students Make While Studying

Cram [kram]

verb (used with object), crammed, cramming.
1. to fill (something) by force with more than it can easily hold.
2. to force or stuff (usually followed by into, down, etc.).
3. to fill with or as with an excessive amount of food; overfeed.
4. Informal.
a. to prepare (a person), as for an examination, by having him or her memorize information
within a short period of time.
b. to acquire knowledge of (a subject) by so preparing oneself.

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An Update for Outdated Study Habits

Until recent years, students were encouraged to spend hours reading and rereading articles, books, and notes from class, ostensibly to learn the information. This gave them a false sense of preparedness on testing days. This old school method of ‘kill and drill’ (practice, practice, practice!) is not only monotonous, but also a terribly ineffective way to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Reading and rereading information does not give the brain an opportunity to actually process or distill the information that it is seeing.
A more effective and meaningful way to store information is the process of ‘active retrieval’. Having students attempt to remember information on their own turns passively-absorbed information into understanding and knowledge. Active retrieval requires the student to stimulate memory during the learning process, rather than passively listening to and taking in information while reading or during a lecture.

Active Retrieval in Action

Curious about what active retrieval actually looks like? Let’s look at the following example:
Imagine you are learning to cook. Your teacher shows you how to make chocolate chip cookies walking through the directions step-by- step, but he does not give you a recipe. After his cookies bake, he gives one to you. He encourages you to eat the cookie. While you are eating the cookie, you can taste the butter, sugar, the creamy melted chocolate chips. In the next bite, you taste the slightest hint of salt, then vanilla. Now, your teacher asks you for the recipe. While you don’t have it in front of you, you know you can taste the flavors. You think through his steps. Remember, you only tasted a hint of vanilla – was that a teaspoon? Also, the slightest flavor of salt – ¼ teaspoon? While you may not get the recipe exactly right the first time, you have engaged many of your senses to try to better remember what went into the cookies. Those little memories will be more deeply ingrained in your consciousness than if had you simply read the directions in order to respond to a prompt from your teacher.

Pulling an All-Nighter?: The Enemy of Effective Studying

We’ve all been guilty of cramming the night before a big test. Staying up late, reading and rereading the same information, ad nauseam, trying to ‘cram’ information into our brains. The definition of cram, as shown above, is essentially to try to fill something excessively with force. Cramming as it relates to studying is a fruitless method of learning and attempting to retain information for a number of reasons:
1) Sleep is essential to performing well in school. When students stay up late at night to study, their ability to reason and rationalize test responses using critical thinking skills will be significantly diminished.
2) Reading and re-reading does not move information from short-term memory to long-term memory. The only way to do that is to understand and absorb the information in a meaningful way.
3) Information and subjects should be studied for a short period of time in order to maximize comprehension and retention. Educational experts recommend studying subjects for shorter chunks of time and switching subjects often, ie; instead of studying each subject once per week for 3 hours, study each subject nightly for 30 minutes each.

Bridging the Generational Study Gap

While change is hard, it is so important for educators and parents to revisit the way they think about good study habits. Long gone are the days where every student is encouraged to sit in a quiet room, at a table or desk, and to quietly read and reread notes and articles. Bean bag seating, soft music, colored light bulbs can all be components of an effective and practical study setting. It is important to recognize that what may have been an effective study setting for you may not produce the same results for your student(s). Experimenting with settings, seating, light, and background noise can be helpful to find the right setting for your student at home, or in the classroom. For more information on individual learning styles, or to determine what your personal learning style is, you can check out this website.

Contact Planting Seeds Tutoring Today

At Planting Seeds Tutoring, an Austin, South, and Central Texas-based tutoring company, we are committed to ensuring that every student we work with has access to the most comprehensive tools and strategies to ensure that they are well-positioned to be successful both in and out of the classroom, regardless of whether they are extroverts or introverts. To learn more about the full range of services we offer, visit our blog, visit our website and follow us on Facebook. You can also contact Planting Seeds Tutoring with your questions at (972) 342-6496, or via email at